Organic is a sustainable practice. There’s no separation between sustainable and organic.
I think a lot of chefs have some sort of “heebee jeebee” about organic – “It’s always expensive”, “I can’t afford it”, “It’s granola and Birkenstock’s”, “It means we can’t have the great ingredients that we want”, when it doesn’t mean any of that at all. You can get fresh organic turmeric from Hawaii for example, and most people don’t even look for organic turmeric.
I think a lot of chefs put organic way at the other end of the spectrum because they don’t know what’s possible. They think that if they have an “organic” restaurant, it will mean having a “granola” restaurant.
What have been the more difficult items to get organic? Lemon grass was hard. Bean sprouts were hard, oddly enough. Evidentially it was the mung beans themselves that are sprayed with something to keep them from rotting.
There have been times when items simply weren’t available. This was the case with turmeric where all the fresh turmeric was gone, and all that was left was stuff that was rotting. So we’ve learned to keep certain items frozen.
What’s been the best part of the last year? Well, our lives are not a lot different than they were before. We just know that we’re doing this and it feels good. It feels good to make some products readily available to those who want to make those choices.
How have been the customers’ reactions? All good. They’ve appreciated it. We’ve given them added value and we haven’t put them through the ringer. What’s not to like?
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To get the costs back down, we found it was simply a matter of manipulating the menu. Instead of saying “This case of broccoli costs half as much this other case”, we instead looked at paring higher cost items with lower ones. We can put higher cost broccoli with lower cost fish, and the costs even out over the course of the entire menu.
You’ve been organic for almost a year now. Where their any problems over the course of this time that caught you entirely off guard? What I didn’t anticipate was the staff resistance. I actually lost a chef over this. I was really surprised by that.
He was one of the people who thought that going organic means going “granola”, for lack of a better word. I had not anticipated that at all, because, for me, I wasn’t thinking about organic meaning “hippies” and “communes” and all that kind of stuff. For me it was something very specific. I was really floored by that. Eventually he just didn’t want to do it, and he left.
When I sat down with Tom Douglas, he said that he makes his food choices based on locality, sustainability and the organic. How much thought did you put into both locality and sustainability? I’ve heard other chefs say “It’s all about local. Organic doesn’t matter.” I think that’s kind of the other end of the spectrum and you don’t want to be there either. They both matter.
I’ve decided to draw the line in the sand with organic and not use fresh ingredients that aren’t organic, and I don’t specify if they’re local or not. It’s a first step and it takes the chemicals out of the equation.
We try to buy local as much as we can. But local here means a very short produce season. What do we do the rest of the year? Do we just go back to buying industrial non-organic stuff? I won’t let people diminish the importance of organic just because they’re focused on local.